Max Verstappen said he backed out of his last qualifying run in Mexico as he thought two fellow Red Bull-owned cars going off track would spark yellow flags.
The World Championship leader had been hot favourite to secure pole position for the Mexican Grand Prix, but instead will start the race only third.
The first set of flying laps in Q3 put Valtteri Bottas on provisional pole ahead of Lewis Hamilton, with Verstappen and his Red Bull team-mate and local hero Sergio Perez surprisingly only P3 and P4.
In trying to improve, Verstappen followed closer to Perez to gain a better slipstream, but the plan came undone when the Mexican appeared to become distracted by AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda running wide and he joined him in a brief excursion off the circuit.
Verstappen lost time and with it his chance of overhauling Bottas and Hamilton, who gave Mercedes their first front-row lockout of the season – a boost to the seven-time World Champion’s hopes of reducing his deficit in the title race.
The Dutchman’s immediate reaction was to call one of Tsunoda or Perez a “dumb idiot” over team radio, although it was not clear whom he meant. But that incident, and struggling for grip, made it a frustrating afternoon for Verstappen.
Not the Q3 we expected 😅 But, still plenty to race for on Sunday 💪
P9 @yukitsunoda07 #PoweredByHonda pic.twitter.com/RiGRdyDc0y
— Honda Racing F1 (@HondaRacingF1) November 6, 2021
“It seemed like through qualifying the balance went away a little bit,” he said in his post-race interview.
“Then actually on the last lap I was on for a good lap. I don’t know what happened in front of me but there were two guys going off, so I thought there was going to be a yellow flag. So I back out and then of course you know the lap is destroyed.
“Even with that, and with not having great balance, I think we could have still gone for that pole lap. Third is not amazing but I think it’s still better than starting second.”
The inference there was that the long run to turn one could give Verstappen the chance to overtake with a slipstream, but Mercedes are producing greater straight-line speed than Red Bull.
The team were seen making adjustments to his car before the session but Verstappen said “when we went into qualifying everything was like normal”, adding: “Of course it’s not ideal, but I don’t think it’s a reason why it was a bit of a struggle for us in qualifying.
“Qualifying didn’t go our way but we are not using these [soft] tyres anyway tomorrow, so still a lot to fight for.”
In a subsequent interview with Sky F1, the 24-year-old gave an even stronger take, saying: “It was a terrible qualifying and we deserve to be where we are.”
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